by Sam Gugino
One of my most enduring food memories was watching a tuna auction at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, the largest seafood market in the world. The Japanese take tuna very seriously, and especially bluefin tuna, which can command over $100,000 for a single fish.
It’s not surprising then that the best Japanese restaurant in the Philadelphia area is named Bluefin. I’ve eaten at Bluefin numerous times, first, when it was a cozy little spot in a strip mall on Germantown Pike, and for the past five years in the Northtowne Plaza in East Norriton. (A second Bluefin with a liquor license is projected to open this fall in Bala Cynwyd.)
The black and beige color scheme, romantic lighting (just enough to read menu) and perceptible but not intrusive music, give the dining room a cool jazz feel. (The same perceptible but unobtrusive quality applies to the service as well.) If you want more illumination, plus some entertainment, sit at the sushi bar and watch the chefs perform.
Daily specials can be numerous. But if toro (tuna belly) is one of them, be sure to order it, especially premium toro or otoro. This looks like thin slices of Wagyu beef (popularized by the Japanese as Kobe beef), much lighter in color than the rest of the tuna because there is so much fat (unlike chu toro, which has somewhat less fat). That’s why it is prized and why it costs so much more. And why it tastes so rich and seductive.
Another daily special was wild snapper from Japan. Unlike much of the snapper Americans consume, which comes from the Gulf of Mexico, this meaty snapper is a bit sweeter.
In addition to toro, Danielle roll (named for an old customer) is a must. This marvel of textures and color features grilled eel on top of shrimp tempura with cucumber and red and green tobiko (flying fish roe). I could eat this dish any day for any meal.
New rainbow roll suffers in comparison, but only because the Danielle is so good. As its name suggests, this multihued combination of tuna, salmon, white fish (usually fluke or albacore tuna) with avocado on crunchy, spicy tuna roll has a subtle smoked pork note and outstanding flavor overall.
Rock shrimp sundae comes in a martini glass and is another feast of flavors and textures with cashews, deep fried rock shrimp, avocado and a spicy mayonnaise.
You should try at least one cooked dish, like the grilled fish cheek of yellowtail. Cheeks of any kind are a favorite of mine. Rich and savory and sweet all at once, this one comes with a ponzu, the soy-based sauce usually containing some sort of citrus, in this case yuzu.
Forget about dessert. Cake or ice cream would spoil things. Accept the gratis fruit, including fried banana chunks, as all you’ll need. Unless you want another rock shrimp sundae.
2820 Dekalb Pike East Norriton, 610-277-3917, www.restaurantbluefin.com
Lunch: Tuesday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Dinner: Tuesday-Thursday, 5-9 p.m., Friday & Saturday
5-10 p.m. Reservations and credit cards accepted. Appetizers, $1.95 to $19.95. Entrees, $10.95 to $49.95.
Riesling is almost a reflexive wine choice for Japanese cuisine. But from where? Germany? Austria? The United States? Australia? I chose none of the above and picked Alsace. And, I thought, as long as I’m in that region of Northeastern France why not also try Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer?
It turns out that they all worked remarkably well. So does a wine the combines all three grapes, and a few more to boot. Domaine Mittnacht Freres Gyotaku (Code: 99024, $24.49) was formulated specifically for sushi and sashimi by a French winemaker and a Japanese chef, though I think it can stand up to almost anything on Bluefin’s menu, even spicy stuff like wasabi. The blend is 40% Pinot Blanc, 30% Riesling, 10% Muscat, 10% Pinot Gris, and 10% Gewurztraminer.
Domaine Meyer Fonne Riesling Reserve 2014 (Code: 47084, $21.99) is fresh and clean but with sufficient body to stand up to the richest fish and the spicy pickled ginger. Maison F E Trimbach Pinot Gris (Code: 8494, $21.99) is richer and riper. (Pinot Gris from almost any producer in Alsace is a terrific and very underrated food wine.) Maison F E Trimbach Gewurztraminer (Code: 7406, $19.99) is spicier and more floral, but good acidity and body.